Staircase in Capri
When Sargent arrives in Capri, its for the purpose of duplicating his success from the previous summer at the Brittany Coast where he had painted sketches for his two “Oyster Gatherers of Cancale”.
His plan was quite simple. In the winter he would work on a portrait, and in the summer he would travel to some exotic local for a landscape or a more daring work and present both to the Salon in May. It had worked the previous year and he was looking to do it again.
The Island of Capri was a logical place to look. Capri was a place of imagination, beautiful women and interesting architecture. Artist had been drawn to there for years.
As his parents traveled on to a more
mild climate from Naples, Sargent waited days for a ship to take him to
Capri. He eventually talked himself onto a small merchant sailboat headed
for the island loaded with fresh fruit for the market. Once he got there
he found Capri, at least in terms of its climate, anything but romantic.
He settled into the Marina Hotel which he discovered to be almost an empty
tomb -- deserted of any tourists who had nearly all fled the repressive
heat. In his first few days it didn't seem promising. Though he got right
to work sketching and painting, he found himself questioning his sanity,
a bit lonely, and longing for the fun days back in Paris. Exhausted from
the heat and lack of decent sleep he writes to his friend Ben Castillo
who was in Paris:
CapriIt was sometime after this letter that an English artist, who had been living on the island, heard that an American had arrived. He went to visit Sargent and introduced himself as Frank Hyde. Learning that Sargent didn't have any real place to work, Hyde invited him to come join him at an abandoned monastery of Santa Teresa which Hyde had been using as a studio. Sargent gratefully agreed, and moved his paint and canvas supplies there. It was at Hyde’s studio that he meets the stunningly beautiful sixteen year old Rosina Ferrara (1862-1938) who had been Hyde’s model.
Sargent eventually settled down into a routine. As he was so adapt at doing, having lived out of suitcases nearly every day of his life, he finally finds the other artists in the area and develops a small community. With the Marina hotel nearly empty, he adopted it for his own. Bonnet, Sain, Doucet, Chatrau, and Frank Hyde would become the small circle of artists.
As the days were so repressively hot, he found the twilight and evenings to be the best time to paint as well as entertain. On one such occasion, Sargent catered a party on the rooftop of his hotel and hired musicians. The view was wonderful, the cool evening air pleasant with the sunset burning its glow against the stucco walls of the surrounding buildings provided the most perfect setting. Sargent and his friends enjoyed themselves with the lively festivities and the "tarantella was danced on the rooftop of his hotel, to an orchestra of tambourines and guitars." (Charteris, P. 48)
In that evening Sargent had found
his romance with Capri and what better images than the beautiful Rosina
Ferraro dancing to Sargent's beloved passionate folk dance against the
The idea of Capri's beautiful women had been in the French imagination at least since 1849 when Alphonse de Lamartine’s well known romance Graziella told of a sophisticated Frenchman falling in love with a Neapolitan fisher girl who he eventually abandoned (Ormond and Kilmurray p. 68).
This bitter-sweet romance was more than just fiction to more than one girl of Capri and would prove to be the fate of Rosina.
Of all the Capri women, Rosina Ferrara (1862-1938), was the most beautiful. In 1886, Adrian Stokes (an English artist) recalled "It used to be easy for artist to find models, but now the grown-up girls are rather shy of strangers, and the priest think it is dangerous for them to pose. For all of that, there are some regular models to be had. Rosina is considered the first on the island, and certainly is a remarkably handsome young woman. She sits perfectly as a model of London or Paris" (Art Journal, 1886 p.169 quoted in Ormond and Kilmurray p.66).
In fact, like the German in Sargent's hotel, some of the artists who went there were looking for more than just beautiful compositions. Around 1883 Rosina had a daughter, Maria, from a father of mysterious origins and even ridiculously rumored to be the offspring of royalty (Olson, p. 69).
Numerous artists painted her. In 1881-82 Charles Sprague Perarce (American painter 1851-1914) sketched her for the Salon of '82 (Ormond and Kilmurray p. 67).
The American artist George Randolph
Barse Jr. (1861-1938) eventually fell in love with her and they were married
in Rome in 1891 (she was 29 and he was 30). The following year he took
her back to the United Sates to live in Westchester, New York. She
died at the age of 76 in Flushing, Queens, New York.